The Corner

Re: Don’t Occupy Education?

From the comments section of my “Don’t Occupy Education?” post, comes this little gem:

It seems that the conservative movement in america is becoming anti-education,anti-intellectual. Of course when highly educated middle class conservative commentators such as Charles Cooke talk about how useless university education is and how kids should instead learn a skill and get a blue collar job-they are talking about YOUR kids, not theirs.

Nice try, but au contraire: I have no problem with education, nor am I an anti-intellectual. In fact, I have a degree in history myself. I don’t regret taking it for a moment, but it is entirely possible that I could.


I am not knocking education per se, I am merely taking issue with the foolish notion that, when it comes to things concrete, having a degree in history means anything other than… well, having a degree in history. It is quite wonderful if higher education leads a person to a better job, or a better life, or both. But there is certainly no guarantee of this, and one must proceed at one’s own risk. Further, there is a lot of evidence that shows a real opportunity cost to going to college. Our fetishization of education — which leads us to consider scholarship to be positive, regardless of what it is being studied and without recourse to context — tends to obfuscate the fact that many people really would be better served by an apprenticeship, or by starting an enterprise of their own, or by simply by working in an existing business and taking advantage of the training offered. If someone wishes to go to college anyway, then good luck to them. But to complain afterwards that it didn’t do them much material good seems to me churlish in the extreme.


Meanwhile, on the topic of great Americans who didn’t go to college, a reader wrote to me:

Interesting posting today. For what it’s worth, Michael Dell ( founder of Dell Computer), Larry Ellison of Oracle (worth a cool 33 billion these days), and Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, are also sans degree.


It’s not just high tech–even “journalism”, such as it is: Walter Cronkite, “most trusted man in America”, didn’t have a degree. On NBC News, neither the current anchorman, Brian Williams, nor the White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, is a college grad. The late Peter Jennings of ABC was a high school  dropout.

Even that high-brow bastion, the New Yorker, serves to illustrate the point:

Harold Ross, who founded the New Yorker, didn’t have a college degree. In fact, he ended his formal education at the age of 13. Neither did many of the others who made the magazine famous over the years: James Thurber, Janet Flanner, Dorothy Parker (whose formal education also ended at 13), John O’Hara, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Truman Capote, and Ernest Hemingway. None of them had so much as a bachelor’s degree.

Add to this:

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas J. Watson, Sr (founder of IBM), Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, and famed journalist Ernie Pyle. And Whittaker Chambers and Mark Steyn, for that matter.

From my own country I might offer up a man who did not go to college, and whose academic record at school was so poor that he was introduced as the “stupidest boy in school, son of the cleverest man in England.” To whom do I refer? Sir Winston Churchill.